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An Aussie icon proves the value of strategic HR

Edition: 2

If you’re as excited as we are you’ve probably already signed up to our next APS HR Professional Stream event: a panel discussion about strategic HR. One of the guests we’ll be hearing from is incoming AHRI Chair, Jon Scriven, who will be speaking about his experience as former Group Executive People at Qantas.

So what is it about the Qantas story that’s so valuable for those of us in HR?

Well, you may remember the headlines of Qantas’ ups and down across the mid-2010s. CEO Alan Joyce became a household name, facing union strikes and an uncertain global market, as he struggled to bring the company back from the brink of disaster and return it to profitability. 

But you might not know what was happening behind the scenes: an ambitious, all-encompassing change strategy, and the dedicated work of an award-winning HR team.

The story of HR success at Qantas starts in 2014, when the airline posted a nearly $3 billion loss. The situation was dire; a write-down of their entire international fleet, coupled with a turf war against rising competitor Virgin, was shaking public faith in this Australian icon. Something had to be done to win back customer trust and prevent a ‘crash landing’.

The answer was the Qantas Transformation Program.

In an industry where numerous complex processes must come together seamlessly to deliver an end-to-end client experience, Qantas realised that their biggest resource – and their biggest determinant of success – was their people. So they enlisted their HR team to design and implement an organisation-wide change initiative. Reaching all corners of the business, the Qantas Transformation Program was an extensive, strategic approach to turning around the culture and operations of one of Australia’s most iconic businesses.

With the HR team the key driver of the program from the start, Qantas was able to effectively engage their staff and manage their talent. They knew that thinking carefully (and strategically) about how they managed their workforce would achieve the customer service focus that was crucial to their success.

The HR team implemented training programs, work structures and technology support that would build a culture of customer service across their workforce. Initiatives such as the organisation-wide ‘creating great’ training program, mobile technology that connected all front-line managers, and a people-focused recognition scheme ensured that staff were empowered to deliver the excellent customer service that was at the heart of the company’s overarching vision.

Their work saw impressive results. By 2017 Qantas had achieved their highest-ever employee engagement score (79%) and were nominated by LinkedIn as one of the top 10 companies to work for in Australia. They had met their target of having women occupy 35% of senior roles, and had group-wide succession planning in place to prepare their workforce for the future.

And it wasn’t just internal benefits that they were seeing: just two years after that $3 billion loss, Qantas were back in the black to the tune of $1.5 billion. The public could see the change in culture and the renewed focus on customer service, and faith was restored in this Aussie institution.

The HR team’s focus on staff outcomes was undoubtedly one of the key factors in Qantas’ stunning turnaround, which is why they took home HRD Magazine’s 2015 Australian HR Team of the Year Award. It’s a great example of how leading HR strategy and a people-first approach can shape corporate direction for the better. To hear the inside story about the Qantas transformation and get more insights into strategic HR, make sure you register for our livestream event.

Last reviewed: 
3 November 2020